Amplified attention allocation to negative information in one's environment has been implicated in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Attention bias variability (ABV), the magnitude of attention fluctuation between negative and neutral cues, has also been found to be elevated in PTSD. While eye-tracking methodology has been used in research on attention allocation in PTSD, ABV was only explored using manual reaction-time-based indices. Thirty-seven participants with PTSD, 34 trauma-exposed healthy controls (TEHC), and 30 non-exposed healthy controls (HC) completed an eye-tracking free-viewing task in which matrices comprised of neutral and negatively-valenced faces were presented. Threat-related attention allocation was calculated as the proportion of dwell time (DT%) on negatively-valenced faces. Eye-tracking-based ABV was calculated as the standard deviation of DT% across matrices. DT% on negatively-valenced faces was greater in participants with PTSD compared to both TEHC (p = .036, d = 0.50) and HC (p < .001, d = 1.03), with TEHCs showing a greater attentional bias compared to HCs (p = .001, d = 0.84). Controlling for average fixation duration, ABV was higher in both the PTSD and TEHC groups relative to the HC group (p = .004, d = 0.40), with no difference between the two trauma-exposed groups. Biased attention allocation toward negative social information is related to PTSD pathology, whereas elevated ABV measured with eye-tracking appear to be related to trauma-exposure per-se.
- Attention bias variability
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Sustained attention
- Trauma exposure